After the most incredible 9 days I'm finally back home, feeling a little jet lagged. I'd been planning this Trek America trip since January, when a break up pushed me to step outside my comfort zone, I'd never been abroad on my own before but impulsively booked to do a road trip around the west coast. I can honestly say that it's been the best experience of my life and I intend on booking another similar trip for next summer (still undecided on the destination). Travelling solo was eye opening and gave me a huge boost of independence. I was excited at the prospect of meeting new people, exploring new places and the memories will last a lifetime.
My Trek began at Manchester Airport, heading to JFK and then on to San Francisco. I spent the night before in the Red Roof Inn, we were meeting as a group in the lobby at 7.30am. At 6am I headed to the diner just next door for a classic american breakfast, bacon and blueberry pancakes obviously, to ensure I was fuelled for the start of what was going to be an epic adventure. It soon became clear who our group members were, we were the bunch with huge backpacks and hiking boots on. In total there were 11 members, plus our tour leader Andrew, the majority coming from all over Australia, with a couple of europeans and brits mixed in. We did a few ice breakers, filled out some forms and through our suitcases into the back of the van before setting off.
It was a stunning week for weather, San Francisco is well known for it's misty fog on the Golden Gate Bridge but we got a crystal clear view of the city. It felt like being in a movie, you start the Trek with a walk across the bridge and it's hard not to be taken back by the views. The walk itself was longer than I anticipated, you realise seeing these things in real life puts them into perspective (the scale of the Grand Canyon was something I certainly couldn't have grasped without seeing it in person). I'm a fitness fanatic about 70% of the time so I thoroughly enjoyed being out in the sunshine, with my camera for company. This is also were I picked up my first patch! I wanted to get a unique souvenir from each place originally, but in our van they had patches stuck to the interior walls and so I decided to collect one from each place (to then stitch onto a denim jacket back home).
We stopped off for drinks, snacks and were given chance to wander around for a bit before our first part of the driving began, heading to Yosemite. Now a big part of these trips is the driving, it gives you chance to see the parts of America that you wouldn't otherwise get to experience. I also chose a camping holiday because we spent more time as a group, food shopping in Walmart, cooking in teams on a night back in camp, taking it in turns to make breakfast and wash dishes, pulling up roadside and getting out the makeshift table from the van to build a sandwich lunch station, this made it all the more memorable. It was a holiday that I would choose over sunbathing on the beach any day of the week.
Into the Wild
As we pulled further away from San Francisco, the forest grew and I found myself in a place that felt more familiar, the wilderness. Having read books like 'Into the Wild', climbed the 3 peaks in the UK and watched documentaries like 'Valley Uprising', Yosemite felt like home to me. Driving through the mountain hills whilst gazing into the valleys below I couldn't help but feel like I belonged here. It's mad but from the minute we stopped by the campsite and set up our tents, I knew I didn't want to leave. The first night was spent eating s'mores, playing games around the campfire and getting to know the people we were going to be spending a lot of time with. A few bottles of beer helped to get the conversations going and soon we all settled in.
Our first full day in Yosemite, we were given a few options for hikes and trails to follow over breakfast. A cup of camp coffee and a blueberry bagel, covered in crunchy peanut butter (how much more american could I be) was the perfect morning pick me up. We made ourselves lunch from our Walmart haul, grabbed a few protein bars and headed back deeper into the national park. We stopped off at the village were we would all meet again later, and set off in different groups as we had people of different abilities so we chose different hiking routes. The majority of our group went for the 7 mile waterfall hike, in hindsight we didn't know the elevation was 5910ft, it was intense and challenging. However, the views from the top made it totally worth it! I've never seen a place so beautiful in my entire life and I would have loved to have camped up top to appreciate the view for longer.
We had made it up in two separate groups, but all joined together at the top for a spot of lunch and to make our way back down and back to the village to meet up with the group in time. The hike was rather quiet, being outside of peak season and I think this made it even more stunning. The lower part of the routes were busier but as the incline increased people appeared to be turning back, especially families and older walkers. There was plenty of wildlife on our hike too, deer, elks, birds and squirrels (unfortunately no bears though). The photos below do it more justice than I can, the experience was unbelievable. Once back at the village I stopped for my Yosemite patch, and a hoody which I admittedly had on my shopping list from the moment I booked the trip. I stuffed in some sweets and chips and our tour leader picked us up to head back to camp. We spent the remainder of our nights cooking more s'mores, playing music and exploring the local area. I could happily have spent the whole 9 days here but there was more to see.
The night after the hike I did sleep pretty well, in fact passed out would be more accurate. The heat and lack of food probably contributed, it also didn't help that because of all my camera equipment I was the only person carrying a back pack. This definitely made my hike a little more brutal than the rest of the group but we were a persistent bunch, I'm often stubborn in these situations so it doesn't matter how difficult it gets and even though I was feeling not 100%, once I put my mind to it I won't turn back. I am glad though because the hike was the highlight of the entire trip for me, it stands out as the biggest challenge for me to date (especially since its 300m higher than Ben Nevis, which was the highest climb I had done).
The Mafia Gang (from left to right): Kelsey, Craig, Gareth, Lissa, Rebecca, Alyce, Jess, Anette, Rob, Me and Louisa.
We got up the next morning, and drove to a lake for a dip. The crisp morning air meant that we weren't quite brave enough to get into our swimwear but it did make for a beautiful little photoshoot and filming area. We spent a lot of time in Yosemite over the 3 days, but theres so much more to explore, I would love to go back and climb more of the mountains. It was time to leave and head towards Nevada for the next part of our journey but I could never forget the beauty of ancient sequoia trees and granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. Hopefully we will meet again Yosemite...
🍑 A B Y
Chick Chicka Chicka...
Ferris Buellers Day Off is one of my favourite films of all time! So you can imagine how excited I was when I got the chance to go to Chicago with work for a few days. Unfortunately, I didn't get to show my stuff on top of a parade float, but I did get to lean out over the Chicago skyline. I'd only been to America once before, to New York with my friend around 4 years ago now. This was such an exciting prospect, I love the states! The sheer scale of the cities really takes my breath away, plus you can't complain about the food!
On day one, we arrived late afternoon but that didn't stop me from throwing my stuff into the hotel room & heading out to explore. They don't call it the windy city for nothing, it was absolutely freezing, despite the glorious sunshine. We were lucky that the hotel we were staying in was right around the corner from Cloud Gate, a very unique reflective sculpture in Millennium Park. Naturally, I headed straight over for a look! After a half an hour stroll I went back to meet up with the guys from work.
As it was our first night, Chicago town deep dish pizza was a no brainer! May I just say whilst in Chicago I ate a lot and I mean a lot. American portions are so much bigger that I often struggled to finish a whole meal and the pizza was insane. We found this adorable little diner round the corner as we didn't want to travel too far. We asked the waiter if he thought two large pizzas would be enough for the four of us, his advice was to get one. We decided to take his advice opting for one large and one small in the end, it's a good job we did because we were still shamelessly defeated.
The pizza itself was sensational! It was bizarre as it came in more of a pie tin, the crust is topped with quite a generous layer of cheese and then the sauce is spread on top. If you are ever in Chicago, don't leave without trying the deep dish it was definitely the best meal we had on the whole trip. Totally exhausted from the travel and food we headed straight to bed.
The Sausage King of Chicago
The second day we were meeting in the lobby at around 10am. Thanks to the jet lag, I woke around 6 so decided to put my trainers on and head out. The city was quiet, beautiful and crisp, so I walked down to the harbour in time to catch the sun coming up, it did not disappoint. The breeze was certainly a wake up call. As everywhere was pretty much closed I strolled around the city for 3 hours, taking in the sights, it was peaceful and a definite contrast from the bustle of the night before. A quick stop off at Starbucks for my morning coffee fix then it was time for breakfast. After soaking in as much of the cities streets, sounds and smells, I figured the miles had earned me the staple of American breakfasts, pancakes and bacon!
The day was filled with work stuff for a conference, but an early finish meant I got to go live out a bit of a Ferris Bueller moment up at the top of Willis Tower, also referred to as Sears Tower. Similar to the Empire State Building, the tourist attraction gives you a perfect view across the skyline with large glass windows. You can really see for miles and in true spirit of the film, I climbed up on the barrier, leant onto the glass and peered down to the city below. A cool feature is the opportunity to stand on a glass floor, now I am not afraid of heights at all but the first step did make me feel a little on edge. It was an odd sensation being 1,353 feet suspended in the air. I imagine going up on an evening would be indescribable, I did that in New York & couldn't quite put into words the view. A quick trip down to the gift shop and one 'Sausage King of Chicago' fridge magnet later, we were back out on the street.
A Person Should Not Believe in an ism
The next few days mostly consisted of work and spending the evenings socialising or at events. In the mornings I continued my habit of getting up extra early, so I could grab a coffee and stretch my legs. I never know if I will get to go back to a place once I have seen it so I try my best to just breathe it in for however long I am there.
With so many nights out, I tried my first ever sidecar. Anyone who knows me will know I love a good cocktail, this was no exception and the sugar dusted rim added an extra level of sweetness. Another night involved a Hard Rock Cafe visit, where plenty of mojitos were consumed. We began the night by ordering the largest plate of nachos I have ever seen in my life, and that was just the starter. That was followed by classic burger & fries for me with a mexican twist, it certainly went down a treat! I find no matter which Hard Rock you go to the food is really good and the interior of each inspires me. They have this vintage diner from Grease kind of appeal, with music memorabilia consuming the interior walls, throw in an added modern twist & that sums up the Hard Rock Cafe. It has to be said this was the fourth one I have visited (London, New York, Dublin) and the staff are an absolute delight, never failing to have a laugh with you.
A couple of nights we went to Miller's Pub right down the road from our hotel, because the food was fantastic and they served this sweet sour cherry beer that I need to find now I'm back home. Meals there included a 'Blue Cheese Burger' and 'Pastrami on Rye', I am glad I did all the early morning walking because it helped me feel less guilty about the overload of carbs! This pub also served the best peanut butter cheesecake I will ever have in my life, we shared it between three of us but I think I could have easily eaten the whole thing! My best judgement told me that the calories probably wouldn't be appreciated the morning after though.
*I am starting this blog after my trip so in the future I am going to take a lot more photos and notes of place names, as well as tips for travelling.
Life Moves Pretty Fast
It feels strange to say but I think a part of me preferred Chicago to New York. For a big city it felt quite cosy, I loved the culture, music and atmosphere. There is a lot less of the touristy stuff so you can focus on actually living and breathing the city. With every street you turn being full of exciting restaurants and bars, I could only dream about living somewhere like this. I always make sure to fill my bag with american candy for the family before coming home, the best finds this time were Nutter Butters and Coffee M&Ms, they don't last very long.
Whenever I go on trips I always want a souvenir, ideally something that isn't tacky, is original and if possible free. One of the events we went to had artists dotted around the room doing caricatures in multiple styles, being a designer myself I couldn't quite contain my excitement. I sat for two one which was the more comical interpretation but the second was a fashion illustration, very vogue. (These are now proudly framed on my photo wall at home). My next trip to the states is for Trek America in October, I'm already planning my kit list and want to get a memento for every place I visit.
Next stop San Francisco...
🍑 A B Y
Aby, 24. Northerner.